Fantagraphics started putting out a series of books reprinting EC comic book stories. Each volume focuses on a particular artist and collects stories from across the line of EC titles. The stories are printed in black and white, and I read somewhere that the reproductions are taken directly from photostats that were originally used for reproduction back in the 50's...someone held on to all of that material for more that 60 years! The reproductions tend to be clean and crisp, with solid blacks being nice and rich.
I picked up books focusing on the work of Al Williamson, Wally Wood, and John Severin last year. My favorite is definitely the Al Williamson collection, "50 Girls 50", because the majority of the stories have a sci-fi bent to them and there are some wonderful inking by Frank Frazetta on some of the stories (in fact, Frank Frazetta's "Squeeze Play", which he penciled and inked, is included in the book because it originally started out as a Williamson story and got picked up by Frazetta due to deadline pressures).
Last month I was looking through the new offerings in the series and noticed that there is a volume collecting stories drawn by Johnny Craig. I didn't know much about Craig, but the preview pages implied that some of the stories included had a "crime noir" feel to them and the artwork looked interesting (a clean inking style with solid blacks spotted through out the panels). So I took the plunge and ordered the book.
I just finished reading it and I have a much greater appreciation of Craigs abilities now. I didn't look into his background, so I know next to nothing about him personally or any of his other work that he did either prior to EC or after EC folded. And in a way that is OK, because I can appreciate his work for what it is, without trying to put it into any sort of cultural context.
He was a good storyteller. He composed his panels in such a way as to make all action very clear and eliminated any confusion that might be caused by complicated scripts. The spotting of blacks is very well done, the figures look solid and the environments look like they have depth.
His page layouts are straight forward and most of the time are 9 or 6 panel grids, but I believe that was mostly dictated by the EC editorial department (it's the same with Wally Wood, Al Williamson, and John Seven books I mentioned earlier).
His approach to drawing faces reminds me of Milton Caniff and a bit of Will Eisner (with the high cheekbones and expressive eyebrows). He was great at drapery, making men's suits look just right on a person with very interesting folds. Women's figures are pretty generic looking with small waists and high breasts, but once in a while he would break out and draw the female protagonist in a very naturalistic way and I was blown away at how great his female characters acted and moved across the page (an excellent example of that is an 8 page story, "When the Cat's Away").
Most of the stories were fun to read. Nothing intense and sometimes down right silly, but fun to relax with. Also, I knew that the stories were written in the 50's and since then lots of writers have build upon the same themes with more sophisticated plots that I have been exposed to on TV, in movies, and in comics. However, there is an art to writing a short story and I will also say that these 8 page short stories, really were short stories. Each one had a beginning, a middle, and an end, which is more than what I can say about a lot of short stories included in modern comic book anthologies.
I feel that Craig was a competent draftsman and a solid story teller. In my opinion he lacked the inventiveness of Bernard Krigstein, maybe didn't have the rendering artistic flare of Al Williamson or the fluid anatomy of Frank Frazetta, but I enjoyed the collection and I have learned a few things from reading his stories. I would definitely review it before starting any assignment associated with the 1950's for atmosphere and mood.
I do hope Fantagraphics will eventually put out a collection centered on Krigstein, that would be very much appreciated….in the meantime I learned that Fantagraphics will be putting out a second Jonny Craig book, collecting his horror stories. I already have my copy pre-ordered!